- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

IRVING, Texas (AP) - The family of a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran was given his medals during a ceremony Saturday, decades after they went missing after he died in 1980.

The nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited held a ceremony in the Dallas suburb of Irving to present the medals to the widow and children of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Carter Stephens, a Green Beret who served two tours of duty as a medic in Vietnam. Among his medals were the Silver Star for gallantry, the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart.

Stephens’ widow, Joyce Stephens, 68, of Carrollton, said she was “flabbergasted and ecstatic” when she learned the medals had been located, and was especially excited for her two children.

“I’d wondered where they were. I really didn’t worry too much about them,” she said, noting that she had the bars that correlate to the medals and the paperwork in case she ever wanted to get replacements. “I wanted the medals, but I had proof.”

Vermont-based Purple Hearts Reunited, which works to return lost or stolen military medals to veterans or their families, had tracked down her son after being contacted by Kim Jacobs, who came into possession of the medals after serving as the casualty assistance officer for the family at Stephens’ memorial.

When her husband died in a car accident at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Joyce Stephens was pregnant with their daughter, who was born 21 days later. In the confusion between the memorial and the birth, when friends were helping her pack up her house for a move to live with her parents in Memphis, the medals ended up with Jacobs.

Jacobs, who left the military shortly after Stephens’ death, said he hadn’t realized that he even had the medals till he was cleaning out after a move about a decade ago.

“I opened this little shoebox and I went ‘Oh my gosh. These are Carter’s medals. How did they ever get in here?’” said Jacobs, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I started hunting around, trying to find his wife or kids,” Jacobs said.

He said that a couple of times a year, especially around the holidays, he’d start searching but never had any luck. “It just worried me for so long because their father and husband was a personal friend of mine,” he said.

But after seeing an ad for Purple Hearts Reunited he contacted the group’s founder, Zachariah Fike, who quickly found 44-year-old Scott Carter Stephens, who was almost 10 when his father died.

Joyce Stephens said she’d assumed Jacobs might have the medals, but hadn’t managed to track him down either. A few years after husband’s death, she’d moved her family to the Dallas area. “We just lost touch,” she said.



Purple Hearts Reunited, www.purpleheartsreunited.org

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